Inclusive or Exclusive

Generally speaking, many members of the Churches of Christ would say our fellowship of independent congregations is in a period of transition while most members would not be able to accurately describe where that transition is heading, or even agree on what it is to begin with.   Agree?  Disagree? Well, it’s really hard to disagree with the obvious.  There is a transition going on among the many congregations of the Churches of Christ and that really cannot be denied.  Attend a Bible Lectureship at one of our Christian universities such as ACU or Pepperdine and you will find classes and discussions from the traditional to the non-traditional in terms of theology, practice, teaching, leadership, and other areas.  Our independence among our congregations has made it possible to have lots of opinions based on bible study and it has opened doors of opportunity for some churches to re-evaluate where they have come from, where they are, and where they want to go in the 21st Century.  Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

A few years ago in the late 1990’s, Joe Beam wrote an article on how he viewed what was happening in the Churches of Christ.  At the time, Joe was a minister who was in demand as a guest speaker and he had the opportunity to visit many congregations and observe them while he was with them.  He now is the head of Beam Research Center.   The article he wrote that describes what he learned is available at the following link:  What is Happening To The Churches of Christ .  If you haven’t ever read the article, please take the time to read it.

In the article, Joe has developed a graphic representation that describes what he sees happening among the Churches of Christ about 16 years ago.  He does a fairly accurate job of nailing how things were at the time.  He also describes each element he uses in the graphic he designed and ties these descriptions to our congregations.  It’s highly probably that you will recognize yourself and your congregation in one or more of these descriptions and on the graphic.

Yesterday, in response to a question he was asked on his Facebook page, he reposted the article.  I found it quite refreshing to re-read.  However, I also noticed something that was quite interesting.  At the time he wrote the article, the movement for gender inclusion and gender equality was just in its infancy.  You could literally count on two hands the number of known Churches of Christ who were gender inclusive and the number of churches who were egalitarian you could count on one hand.  It was not a factor in the original article.  It was also about this same time that I first started studying much deeper into the subject of Christian gender equality.  However, for some reason, I never gave much thought to Joe’s article and his graphic during my own study for the next decade, which has inclusion and exclusion beneath the base line.  Joe saw this inclusion and exclusion as pertaining to other Christians and congregations, denominations and independents.  However, when Joe republished his article yesterday, it hit me that the line is even more accurate if we say the chart applies to Gender Inclusion and Gender Exclusion.  Without realizing it in 1999, Joe had drawn a chart that accurately portrayed the gender inclusion movement in the Churches of Christ, and probably other Christian fellowships as well.  In a sense, he became a little prophetic in his article with out realizing.  His graphic chart shown below is from his article.  He titles it “Types of Congregations”.


Church of Christ State
Types of Congregations

Using Joe’s chart, simply add the word “gender” to Inclusion and Exclusion and you have an almost perfect description of where we presently stand in the Gender Inclusion/Egalitarian movement.  It describes the churches and their members who are moving toward or away from gender freedom, inclusion, and equality.  I  would place the churches in the “Innovative/Cautious” category as those churches who are progressive in many areas but are only studying gender inclusion.  They are hesitant at present to take the step because of fear of loosing members. They are aware of the potential of loss because of our traditions and choose not to move further because of those who would leave if that next step toward gender inclusion was taken.   The churches classified as “Innovative/Open” are the churches who have accepted gender inclusion at various levels, being more inclusive as the line moves to the left,  while leaving the traditional eldership and pulpit ministries reserved for men. They are otherwise very progressive and open to trying new ventures and ideas in worship, including adding instrumental services to their a cappela services, which has traditionally been a No-No in the extreme, especially for the churches to the right of center. The churches classified as “Left Wing/Exsasperated-Inclusive” are the churches who have made and implemented the decision to treat women as being equal with men in God’s eyes.  They view church service as being gift based rather than gender based and are open to women using those gifts,  whether it be as shepherds/elders, preaching ministers, teachers, right on down to just being a quiet worshiper. These churches are rejecting some traditions of the Churches of Christ as being a wrong interpretation and application of scripture or a practice based in man’s traditions rather that God’s word. They are aware of the possibility of loosing members because of the change but they go ahead believing they are moving closer to God’s original intent in scripture regarding gender equality.  Going the other direction to the right side of the line, we have “Exclusion” in various degrees.  In the “Traditional Churches/Searching” we see the main line Churches of Christ discussing the possibility of studying new views on gender while holding to traditional complementarian practice.  The next category to the right is the  “Traditional/Satisfied” churches.  They are the main line traditional middle of the road churches who are happy where they are at and will fight hard to not open up discussion of gender.  They tend to be strongly complementarian, maybe even slightly patriarchal for a few.  The “Right Wing/Zealots” would be much more patriarchal in practice, including in marriage, and would restrict women even more, strongly believing in and practicing “required silence” and “required submission to men” of women in mixed bible classes.  They may even be so restrictive as to not allow a woman to read scripture in a mixed bible class taught by a man out of fear that by allowing a woman to read scripture, she is teaching a man and violating 1 Tim 2.  I have been in a church where this was the standard practice!

Joe, without realizing it back then, drew the perfect graphic representation of where we are in 2015!  Again, I urge you to read Joe’s original article to increase your understanding of the original graph.  It’s an excellent and still applicable sixteen year old article and it will be worth your time to read it. Then after reading his article, come back to my post and read it again!